26 July 2009
What were we up to this week? J and I headed into Manhattan on Wednesday to shop at the Union Square green market, grab some goodies from Chinatown, and meet some friends from work for good company and libations. We stocked the car with a cooler, a cooler bag, and several canvas shopping bags and headed out to take advantage of all of the amazing produce in season this time of year.
I was determined to find a real, honest-to-goodness, locally grown tomato. Yeah, I've gotten some small ones from my own plants, but some local farm had to have an early tomato or two for sale this week, right? Most of the tomatoes we found were hot house tomatoes. J and I were being obnoxious (well, it was mostly me being obnoxious) and stuck to our guns, holding out for the real deal. They were hard to find, but I came home with three funky lumpy but deliciously ripe tomatoes. Mmm...tomatoes...it's difficult to believe I'll be sick of them by this time next month. Until then, I am going to savor every bite.
The first of the three lumpy beauties found its way into a delicious tomato, mozzarella, and pesto sandwich on a fabulous baguette. Tomato sandwiches will become my daily lunch within the next couple of weeks, when I'm pulling the tomato right off the vine and slicing it, still warm from the sun, before wedging it into one of my homemade rolls. Oh my, I'm getting excited just thinking about it.
At the green market we also scooped up some fresh onions (both sweet yellow and red), leeks, dandelion greens (regular and red), escarole, cilantro, baby bok choi, some amazing scallions (two feet long), two more giant bunches of basil (can't resist its scent), a couple of kinds of bread, and some zucchini blossoms.
Aren't they pretty? They're incredibly delicate and were already getting soft by the time we got home. I battered them (I stuffed a few with some fresh mozzarella first) and lightly fried them for a crispy breakfast. I'm going to have to harvest some of my garden's blossoms to practice and perfect my recipe. They are tasty.
We ran down to Chinatown to get some noodles and a couple of cooking tools (including a new tortilla press - don't ask) and some produce one cannot get at the green market or farm stands on the North Fork. We needed some Chinese broccoli and other greens. We found even smaller baby bok choi - perfect for cooking (and eating) whole.
Fast forward to our Saturday CSA pickup and our goodies for this week:
Within seconds of snapping this photo, my wheels were spinning and I had plans for a lot of this produce.
The romaine would make lovely little lettuce cups for a spicy veggie meat stir fry during the week. The kohlrabi would add a tasty crunch to said stir fry.
The corn would be (part of - okay most of) dinner that very night (the ears were quite small - look!)
To give you a sense of perspective, the little ears in the front row were about 4 inches long. Note that there are only eight ears pictured here because we found some caterpillar friends in two of the ears (ah, the joys of organic produce!).
The kale would probably find its way into some quesadillas after being cooked down with garlic, olive oil, and red pepper flakes.
The basil was a beautiful purple basil, which I processed into a tasty basil-parsley pesto (right after I processed the two big bunches of basil from the green market into a couple of pints of pesto). This was the pesto on our tomato-mozzarella sandwiches. The rest of the pesto found its way into our freezer.
The cucumbers will find their way into a salad with the remaining tomatoes and some of the fresh red onion. Maybe I'll toss in some of the cilantro. Most of the cilantro and fresh onions were blitzed up into a big batch of salsa this morning. I can't wait to make salsa with fresh tomatoes.
Zucchini...zucchini...zucchini...so much zucchini and my plants have just started producing fruit. The big zucchini we picked up this week will probably find itself either pickled with lots of sweet onion and jalapeno pepper or on top of a pizza with some caramelized onion and roasted garlic and fresh parsley. Said pizza might even have a couple gorgeous free-range eggs perched on top amidst freshly shaven shards of Parmesan cheese. Okay, I'm feeling it. Pizza sounds good!
The cherries and blueberries from the fruit share will find their way into my food dehydrator. I'm preparing for those winter Sunday mornings when J wakes up craving something sweet and I'm craving some extra heat from the oven. Scones and muffins will warm his belly and the oven will warm my toes.
I forgot to mention that J scooped up twelve pounds of cherries this week. (J has a cherry problem.) A couple of pounds found their way into a big bottle of Cherry Bounce and I need to thank Merideth for this fun recipe. In a gallon container (I used an old growler that once held some stout) combine a couple of quarts of cherries with three cups of sugar (yeah, that's a lot) and a fifth of whiskey (not the expensive stuff - not necessary with all of that sugar). Every day for ten days, give the container a bounce to incorporate some of the sugar. Store the bottle away for four months and try not to obsess about it. I can't wait for this sweet cherry and whiskey liquor to be ready to mix cocktails. J loves Whiskey Sours, so how can we go wrong with a Bouncy Sour? I'm dreaming of a Bouncy boozy cherry cola. How about a blend of Bounce with some chocolate soda for a Black Forest Bounce? Oh yeah, this is going to be some good stuff in a few months.
The yellow plums were tiny and deliciously sweet-tart. I cooked them down with some simple syrup until they were soft then stirred in a generous glug of Triple Sec before chilling it down to make sorbet. This will hit the ice cream maker tomorrow morning. I know it's going to be fabulous because J and I attacked the bowl of the food processor after I poured out the sorbet mix. It's sweet and tart and orangy (from the Triple Sec) and wonderfully sunshiny.
We took the pups for an extended ride after our CSA pickup (check out Holdy in his Doggles).
Our destination? Harbe's Family Farm for another bag of their sweet corn. We ate six ears last week and they were amazingly sweet. Since we had ten ears of organic corn from our CSA already, the bag of a dozen ears from Harbe's was destined to be cut off the cob and frozen for all sorts of dreamy winter recipes - corn chowder, a lovely maque choux to serve along side my favorite Malaysian-style potato curry, corn and black bean quesadillas with black bean soup. I don't want to rush away my summer, but these winter dishes sound good. At least I have something to look forward to during the dark, cold months of winter. Maybe we'll get another big storm and a snow day (or two) to give me some quality cooking time! Before any of that can happen, though, the corn had to be de-cobbed.
Twelve ears of de-cobbing later, I had three lovely zip top bags of sweet corn nestled in my freezer, dreaming of blizzards and snow days and chowder.
Speaking of chowder, my corn cobs did not go to waste. I boiled them up with some water and salt and pepper and made a couple of quarts of homemade corn stock for a big pot of corn chowder. The stock is nestled into my freezer, next to the corn. I'm planning on using my own home grown potatoes in that recipe. But that's another blog entry for a much much later date. I've got a refrigerator full of summer goodness to cook through before the door pops off!
20 July 2009
Beets have haunted me since childhood. They are the one vegetable that I have flat-out refused to try - ever. Many people have postulated that the canned beets that were served as part of school lunch from Kindergarten through Fifth Grade are the only beets I have known and have therefore tainted my opinion on the vegetable. True enough, but I never tasted those beets. It's something about the color and the weird bleeding thing beets do that turns me off. I have been reassured by several people that fresh beets neither look nor taste as awful as canned beets. I promised J and myself that I would give these beets a try.
Alas, the online update, which is usually wrong in some tiny way, was correct. Beets! Beets? Beets! Noooooooo! Actually, the update was correct about the beets but incorrect about the yellow squash. I ended up with an extra head of garlic and a couple of extra potatoes in exchange.
The flowers were lovely this week.
See how I can always find something positive to say? It's that good southern upbringing.
Let's stay happily positive for a minute and talk about our adventures after our farm pickup. Stop #1: Harbe's Family Farm in Mattituck, NY (http://www.harbesfamilyfarm.com/). Harbe's is our favorite stop for roasted corn and delicious baguettes. We grabbed a couple of ears of the former and shared them with the puppers.
Notice that their little fuzzy noggins make a heart shape as they lick corn kernels from J's plate.
Aren't they adorable, my little corn dogs?
As for the baguettes, they are delicious and amazing and we scooped one up along with a couple of hothouse tomatoes. Yes, Ms. I-want-to-eat-in-season-and-local succumbed to the hothouse tomatoes. The bread was talking to me. The warm weather was singing to me. The delicious tiny home grown tomatoes from last week were haunting my palate. I wanted a tomato sandwich. I needed a tomato sandwich. I would have a tomato sandwich.
I needed some mozzarella for that sandwich - good mozzarella - not that plastic stuff you get at the Stop-and-Shop. We had asked the cashier at Harbe's about the source of their bread and she told us that Scotto's Pork Store (http://www.scottosporkstore.com/home.html) in Hampton Bays delivers both the baguettes and the mozzarella they use in their sandwiches at the farm stand. Okay, the title "pork store" does bother this vegetarian, but I'm in search of cheese, not pork, so, off to Hampton Bays we went!
My BlackBerry and Google Maps made the trip an easy one. I navigated and J drove. On our way to bread-and-cheese-deliciousness, we passed a landmark we've only seen on TV and in print: the Flanders Duck!
Isn't it cute? Okay, not as cute as my pups, but cute. Please excuse the dark gray smudge on the left side of the photo. J's nose (schnoz, as I lovingly refer to it) found its way into the one shot I got of the ducky as we sped by. I tried to wipe the schnoz smudge out using Picasa, but I was less-than-successful. I've got to get some photoshop classes from Gatton.
At Scotto's we scooped up some tasty lunch and a ball of fresh mozzarella. We also grabbed a hero roll because I know how much J loves tomato mozzarella sandwiches. We'd need a lot of bread.
I forgot to mention that Harbe's finally had their own corn for sale at the farm stand, so we scooped up a bag of six ears. Later in the season, I'm sure I'll be lugging home larger sacks so that we can eat some now and freeze some for the winter.
Enough about the extra stuff - let's get back to the shares.
Mesclun mix? Easy. Salad. I figured I'd make the roasted beets with baby greens and fried goat cheese and candied pecan salad I've seen variations of on most restaurant menus recently. This covers the lettuces and the beets. Cool.
Not too cool. After roasting and peeling and slicing the beets (and turning my hands a glowing purple in the process), I mustered up the courage to taste some. Nope. Nope. Nope. Don't like them. Nope. Not gonna happen - for me, at least. J loves them; thank heavens! I'll make the salad for him!
The zucchini found itself in a tasty pair of zucchini pies. That's a recipe for another post. It requires more attention.
The white cucumbers and some carrots and jalapenos and onions found their way into some pickling jars as part of the Great Pickle Experiment of 2009. That, too, is another recipe for another post.
The potatoes, garlic, and parsley will make for a nice batch of lyonnaise potatoes for breakfast later in the week, along side of a couple of the amazing eggs we pick up with each share. These potatoes are a childhood favorite from a restaurant in New Orleans that probably no longer exists. I try to recreate this recipe a couple of times each year. I guess it's time to try again. Mmm...starchy deliciousness.
I'm sorry to say that I don't like peaches either. Don't ask. J, on the other hand loves peaches; but, I'm sorry to say, he didn't like these. Evidently they were mealy and tart and otherwise flavorless. Oh well.
The cherries ended up in J's belly when they started to get fuzzy too quickly to get them into my food dehydrator. Super ripe fruit requires quick action and I was hoping the cherries would hold out until Tuesday. They didn't, so J enjoyed a lovely dessert of fresh cherries tonight.
The blueberries are destined for the food dehydrator. The resulting dried morsels will be wonderful in scones on a very cold day when firing up the oven not only results in a delicious treat, but helps warm up the kitchen and my chilly bones.
Did I cover it all? Whew! Okay, enough writing - time to get cooking!
While surveying our lands last week, J and I noticed the first of our grape tomatoes turning red.
We had to exercise the utmost in restraint to not rip the almost-perfectly-red beauties off of their vines and gobble them down on the spot. No, the first tomatoes would be the most perfect tomatoes. We would wait...(not so) patiently...wait...until the tomatoes were absolutely perfectly wonderfully red and ripe and ready to be devoured.
That day came last Sunday.
The photo doesn't do these two little gems justice. They were vibrant red, plump, just firm, and warm from the sun. J and I couldn't even wait to get the kosher salt out of the kitchen. We tapped tomatoes (you know, like clinking glasses) and popped our little rubied fruits into our mouths.
Nothing beats the taste of the first real tomato of the season. especially when it is eaten outside, straight off of the vine, and still sun-kissed. It was rich - slightly acidic but very earthy. This bite always has me regretting every bullet-proof hothouse tomato I suffered through during the winter and spring. This singular bite of tomato perfection has me swearing off tomatoes between the months of October and July (a promise, I admit, I am too weak-willed to keep). This perfectly juicy-sweet-musky taste of sun, soil, and fragrant tomato leaf is one I'd like to freeze in time and bottle. No other taste of tomato comes close to it. I will eat tomato after tomato after tomato this summer. I will subsist on tomato sandwiches for days at a time. I will cook them into sauces and soups. I will toss them into salads. I will stuff them into tacos and falafels and salad wraps. I will eat so many tomatoes that I will not want to touch another tomato (until the urge returns sometime around January or so). Not one bite of any of those many tomatoes will be as perfect as that first bite, in the yard, next to J, feeling the sunshine on my face and smelling the scent of my tomato plants.
I'll need to get over it, because I've got a garden full of tomatoes starting to grow and ripen.
18 July 2009
I’m so behind. I had a feeling this would happen sooner or later. I knew I’d start to let the summer get the best of me and I’d start slacking off on my farm run updates. How far behind am I? I’m currently in the car on my way to pick up this week’s farm shares and I haven’t blogged about last week’s shares at all. The horror! The horror!
So here’s what we got:
The lettuce and mesclun mix were easy. We dined on a couple of tasty salads with yogurt ranch dressing that I had zipped up with some bacon salt. (Keep giggling, Di, I did say BACON salt!). Speaking of the vegetarian-friendly bacon-flavored seasoning, I might mention that the Bacon Salt guys are having an anniversary sale, so you might want to check that out.
The broccoli found its way into the noodles I made for Donna’s party last week. It was smaller than a grocery store head of broccoli, but it was tasty indeed and made friends with some of the farmer’s market baby bok choi and the Chinatown Chinese broccoli. If you’re interested in the noodle recipe and you haven’t been keeping up with my blog, be sure to check out the Nikki’s Noodles post from earlier thiis week.
The rainbow chard found its way into a braise with some of the braising mix. Cooked down with some onion, garlic, vegetable stock, and curry powder, the greens softened up as much as they could before I stirred in a couple of packets of curried lentils (Heavens! Prepared food in her kitchen?! Um, yeah!). We gobbled up this fiber rich dish with some naan. Curry-licious.
The flowering cilantro is pretty useless, honestly. I tasted the leaves (few as they were) and flowers and there wasn’t enough flavor in them to bother using it. It was pretty, though. Sigh.
I’ve got plans for the kohlrabi. I need to grab an apple or two and some carrots to make a slaw. I’m thinking of a yogurt based blue cheese dressing for the slaw. Maybe I’ll toss in some grapes. I’ll let you know when it happens.
I keep forgetting I've got raddichio in the refrigerator. Got to get to work on that. Hmm...
Although I have a plethora of recipes for zucchini and squash, I just can’t get myself excited about cooking and eating them. They’re just not registering as sexy to me this year. Don’t know why. I know I’ll be getting more and more zucchini in my shares and some of the plants in my garden are showing little tiny squash, so I’d better get over it and get cooking soon.
The cherries and blueberries are still sitting in the fridge, waiting for inspiration to strike. I think I may dry some in my new food dehydrator. They’ll be great in muffins and scones in the fall.
We downed the eggs in two meals. Half of them were used in the noodles I made earlier this week and the other half were turned into huevos rancheros with the last of my homemade salsa. Mmm….homemade salsa. Time to make more of that. Memo to myself…stop at farm stand for more cilantro.
So, where’s the fun part from the title, Nicole? Ah, the fun. J and I decided to keep heading east after our farm pickup to our favorite
Note Holden’s superior technique. He’s training Riley. Maybe I’ll be able to convince J to take us back today for more corn dog training. Ah, no wonder I get so lazy in the summer. I’m having way too much fun.
16 July 2009
I was wrong.
J has always made a big deal about noodle meals. I thought I was being a lazy cook (more on that below). He thought I was a noodle genius. J suggested I bring some noodles to a block party last year and people raved. Raved about noodles? Yes, I was genuinely confused. So when my friend Donna asked me to make noodles for her party last week, I was surprised and spent several days trying to find something fancier, less ordinary, to bring. I brought the noodles anyway because I could not for the life of me figure out what else to make. People loved them. People asked for the recipe. I don't really get it.
See, noodles are an everyday kind of food in my family. We make them the same way other families make sandwiches. They're easy. They're quick. You can use whatever leftovers you have in the refrigerator to make them. I call them "refrigerator velcro" because noodles hold all of the bits and pieces and odds and ends in the refrigerator together into a single (hopefully) coherent dish. Noodles are what we make when we don't know what to make for dinner. I've spent years standing next to my dad as he concocted noodle dish after noodle dish. I learned a lot about noodles and sauces and what I liked best. Nowadays, I make a few different noodle dishes depending on my mood and what's in the fridge. They're what I make when I have no idea what else to make.
So I made noodles for Donna's party. I did my usual thing, using my usual sauces, trying to use up the veggies in the fridge before they started to wilt. They weren't anything special to me - just my normal, every day noodle mish-mosh; but they got a reaction.
So, as promised, I am sharing the recipe. Now, this is not the easiest thing in the world for me to do because I don't really work from recipes. I cook with ideas, techniques, ratios, and lots and lots of estimation. I have never measured the ingredients for this recipe. Heck, there aren't even ingredients for this recipe. I just use what I have in the house. So, this is not really a recipe, but a set of guidelines and steps. Trust me, you can't do this wrong. So, here we go.
You'll need to gather up some basic ingredients.
Choose from ramen, spaghetti, linguini, Chinese egg noodles, Vietnamese rice noodles -the thicker ones. All noodle-like substances work although I have not tried this with udon (how could that be bad, though?).
I always have onions and garlic and ginger (although ginger isn't a veg, I get it with my veggies, so it counts for me).
Then there are the other veggies: broccoli, Chinese broccoli, bok choi, Napa cabbage, snow peas, red peppers, mushrooms - I like shiitake -, etc... Depending on how much of each of these I have, I'll use one or two or five. It doesn't really matter. I like a lot of veggies, so I use a lot of veggies. Just cut them into bite sized pieces.
I use vegetarian oyster sauce (you can use real oyster sauce), soy sauce, sesame oil, Sriracha (chili sauce - yum), rice wine vinegar, and Splenda (you can use sugar or any other sweetener of choice).
The sesame is for earthiness. If you don't want it, don't use it.
The Sriracha is for heat. I like heat. If you don't want it, don't use it.
The vinegar is for zestiness - for zip. If you don't want it, don't use it.
The oyster sauce, soy, and sweetener are all necessary, though, for flavor and texture.
Once you've got the ingredients ready, it's pretty quick and easy going from there.
Start with the base sauce and veggies. Heat up a large skillet. It will need to be big enough to hold all of the noodles and veggies and have room to stir/toss them all together. Saute a sliced onion in some vegetable oil until it softens and starts to turn brown. I actually don't saute my onions, I sweat them which means I add some salt to the saute at the beginning to get the onions to give up their liquid sooner. When the onions are soft and tinged with caramel color, I add sliced garlic (I use 4-8 cloves, depending on their size), grated fresh ginger (about a teaspoon), and the sliced mushrooms and a bit more salt. If you've got peppers or other veggies that don't like to be boiled, add them in now too. Saute these until the mushrooms are soft but not falling apart.
When the onions and their friends are ready, add about a half cup of oyster sauce, two tablespoons of soy, a tablespoon of sesame oil, Sriracha to taste (I like it hot so I use a lot), a teaspoon or two of rice wine vinegar, and about three Splenda packets (or the equivalent in other sweeteners). [PLEASE NOTE: these measurements are all approximations based on ratios. I don't measure anything. I pour sauce straight from the bottle into the pan. This is why I taste everything and tweak it before I serve it!] Stir this all together with the veggies in the pan. Turn off the fire. TASTE IT! Decide whether you need more saltiness (more soy), more earthiness (more oyster sauce), more heat (more Sriracha), more zing (more vinegar), more nutty-earthiness (more sesame oil), or more sweetness (duh). Add ingredients and TASTE again! The sauce makes the noodles, so get it to your liking!
When the sauce is ready, get the noodles and other veg going. In a large pot of boiling water (I set this to boil while I'm prepping the veggies so that it gets to the boil while I'm making the sauce) toss in your noodles/pasta. Use the directions on the bag/box as a guideline for cooking time. When your noodles are about two minutes away from being fully cooked (I taste them a lot), add the veggies that can take boiling (broccoli, Chinese broccoli, bok choi, Napa cabbage, snow peas) and let them cook for a minute or two. Drain everything, noodles and all, into a colander and shake them until they are pretty dry. We don't want to water down our lovely sauce, do we?
Pour the noodles and the veggies into the sauce and mix/stir/toss everything together. I like to use my trusty kitchen tongs to do this and, be warned, this takes a bit of time. You want to coat everything with the sauce. Do this while the noodles are freshly out of the pot, otherwise they will definitely stick together, which makes tossing impossible. If you find you don't have enough sauce to go around, add more of each of the sauce ingredients and stir-stir-stir. Don't forget to taste again to make sure everything is to your liking.
You can add meats and things to this. We're vegetarian, so I like the veg as is, but I've been known to toss some sliced up soy dogs or other soy meats in with the onions and mushrooms. You can also add previously cooked meats to the sauce to heat them through before you add the noodles.
I often serve this with some thinly sliced omelet on top. That's really easy. Beat some eggs and pour them, into a non-stick skillet that has a light film or spray of vegetable oil. Only pour the thinnest of layers of egg. It's better to make several thin omelets than one thick one for this task. Season the omelet with salt and pepper as it cooks. Let it get lightly browned on both sides before removing it from the pan. Let it cool slightly (while you're cooking up the other thin omelets) then slice them into short, thin strips. I actually cook the egg before I do any of the prep work or other cooking. It gives the eggs time to cool before I slice them. Besides that, I don't have to let the noodles get cold while I cook the eggs. Sprinkle the egg strips over the top of each bowl full. Oh yeah, that's good stuff.
That's it. It's fast. It's easy. It's tasty. It's good. I apologize that I can't give you a hard and fast recipe with exact measures, but that's not the way I cook.
If you make these noodles, let me know how they came out. Tell me what veggies you used. Tell me what noodles you used. Tell me all the cool stuff you think of that I will steal from you and use in my next batch - and there will be a next batch. With noodles, there is always a next batch.
15 July 2009
As a belated anniversary gift, I - no J acting through me - ordered the ice cream maker attachment for my KitchenAid. I had envisioned making batch after batch of ice cream for J and frozen yogurt for me. When faced with an over abundance of both strawberries and cherries on the verge of becoming overripe earlier this month, I decided my maiden voyage into the world of frozen desserts would be to the land of sorbet.
Some initial research through my cookbook collection and some favorite food blogs on the Internet taught me that a good fruit sorbet needs only a few basic ingredients: pureed fruit, sugar, a bit of acid, and some alcohol to keep the mixture from freezing solid. With some basic proportions in mind, I headed into the kitchen and began the Super Sorbet Spree of 2009.
All super-ripe-fruit-without-a-dedicated-use in my kitchen gets pureed with sugar, lemon or lime juice, sugar, a pinch of kosher salt (I don't make a sweet dish without salt), and a shot of something from my liquor cabinet. Before the fruit can go bad, I turn it into something delicious. The resulting mix gets chilled down until my ice cream maker is cold enough to turn it into a lovely small-crystal frozen taste sensation. Thirty minutes of mixing and I've got a soft sorbet, perfect for margaritas or daiquiris on the spot. A few hours in the freezer after the mix up and we've got honest to goodness sorbet.
With all of the fruit in the house, I've been making up lots and lots of sorbet mix lately: strawberry margarita, cherry, cherry-lime, more strawberry, more cherry, and watermelon caipirinha, Because the ice cream maker needs fifteen hours to freeze properly, I really only have time to make one batch of sorbet each day. To get the fruit out of the fridge and into the freezer, we've developed our Sorbet-A-Day routine, which involves freezing off a batch of sorbet each morning while I prepare breakfast. It goes a little something like this. I get inittial breakfast prep work done (chopping, slicing, toasting, etc...). During a break in the action, I grab the sorbet mix out of the fridge, taste it for final flavor and texture tweaks and J grabs the ice cream maker bowl out of the freezer and sets it up on the KitchenAid. We pour the mix in, I set the timer, and J occasionally monitors the sorbet-in-progress while I return to my breakfast preparations. Usually, the sorbet is just finishing up its spinning dance as we are finishing up our last bites of huevos rancheros or eggs en cocotte. Perfect timing! We spoon most of the sorbet into a freezer jar and stash it in the freezer, sample the left overs, and clean up the ice cream maker while doing the breakfast dishes. We're always sure to the the ice cream maker bowl back in the freezer to chill down for tomorrow's sorbet.
We're excited for a lot of the stone fruit to come into season so that we can try nectarine and plum and pluot sorbets. Of course, full-blown melon season will be a treat too. I'm a bit hesitant about apples and pumpkins in the fall, but you know I'm going to try it.. It's nice to freeze a bit of summer sweetness into a sorbet to enjoy when there's no fresh fruit in season later in the year.
The peas have finally gotten big and firm and plump like the peas I've been seeing in the farmers' markets. They are so adorable hanging from their thin, fragile-looking vines. I harvested about three cups of fat pods and started contemplating dinner.
Next to the pea plants are the string bean plants. I've never grown string beans before and I was giddy when I found lots of big beautiful beans hanging from their vines like icicles off of the house in winter. I greedily picked the biggest and fattest beans, leaving the little thin beauties to plump up some more. I got two big hand fulls (in my little hands - or one big hand full in J's meaty mitts).
The peas, green beans, and a bag of local spinach in my refrigerator were all calling out to me to be cooked - that night - and the zucchini wouldn't shut up either. A very green meal was to be the order of the day.
Fettuccine Pesto (with spinach and pistachio - more green - pesto and freshly shelled peas)
Sauteed Green Beans (simply blanched then sauteed in olive oil until they just began to brown and get nutty)
Smothered Zucchini (cooked down with long strands of onion until incredibly soft and just a bit of sweet caramelized brown appearing on the unctious coins of squash)
I contemplated making a salad, but I thought it would be green overkill and just too much food. That, and the leaves were tipped with red, spoiling my fabulous green color scheme.
I had never made a spinach pesto before and found it creamier than a basil pesto. Maybe the leaves had more moisture which emulsified with the oil. I had also never used pistachios in a pesto. We had a big bag of salt and pepper pistachios sitting on the counter and I couldn't help but wonder how they would taste in a pesto. So, fifteen minutes later (with some sore fingertips), I had shelled a large bowl of pistachios to blend up with my big bag of L.I. spinach, some garlic, a tasty chunk of Parmesan cheese, and my favorite olive oil. We had enough pesto for dinner and a pint to freeze for later.
I knew people when I was a kid who wouldn't touch any green food on their plates at all. I wonder how they would have reacted to a plate of nothing but green food?
10 July 2009
Have I ever mentioned that J is obsessed with cherries? I, too, enjoy the sweet-tart squirt of a perfectly rubied ripe cherry in the summer time, but J goes way beyond enjoying cherries. He loves them. He waits (not very patiently, mind you) for June each year to get his grubby paws on as many cherries as he can. He'll even stalk the produce section of the market in January, hoping to scoop up some South American cherries. The boy has cherry issues.
Each June and July I can expect J to come home from one store or another with bags full of cherries. He's been known to bring home twelve pounds at a time. He eats them all, too! He'll plop onto the couch with a giant stainless steel bowl filled with cherries and chomp his way all the way through in one sitting. That's at least a couple of pounds of cherries at a time. I told you - issues.
Upon his return from Las Vegas, J sat on the couch and perused the shopping circulars that arrived during his trip. He discovered that, heavens above, cherries were on sale at ridiculously low prices at almost every local market. Cherry season had officially hit its peak! Further noting that that very evening was the last day of the sale prices, J grabbed his wallet and keys and rushed himself out of the house. An hour later he returned and he wasn't alone. He brought back (brace yourself) twenty-eight pounds of cherries. Yes, that twenty-eight pounds.
With very little free space in the fridge, J and I got very very busy the next day prepping cherries for the freezer, jam making, sorbet making, and more. Those cherries had to be processed fast before they went bad. Who's the brain trust who decided to handle twenty-eight pounds of cherries at one time?
A quick tip to all you cherry lovers out there. Do not give your spouse the spiffy cherry pitter and resign yourself to using a paring knife to pit a giant bowl full of juicy black-purple-red ripe cherries. Your fingers will turn purple. Your clothes will get spattered and stained in juice. You will poke your hand with the tip of the blade repeatedly. You will wonder if you poked yourself hard enough that you're bleeding, but you won't be able to tell right away because your hands are red already.
Yeah, I was a little bitter. A few burstingly sweet cherries later I got over it. These are really good. They're plump. They're firm. They're wonderfully sweet and just tart enough to be pleasing. They're perfect. Twenty-eight pounds? Not even close to enough.
So we spent the bulk of the day getting stained with cherry juice. I made sorbet mix. I froze trays of pitted cherries. I'm about to make another big batch of jam. I'll freeze more trays. The payoff for funky stained fingers and clothes and all of this hard work? We've got this lovely kiss of summer sweetness saved to enjoy during the excessively gray and cold days of February. I'll be able to blend them into tasty beverages (smoothies, margaritas, cherry mojitos) and snuggle them into baked goods (muffins, scones, clafoutis, pies) and cook them into more jam or a lovely sauce or chutney if I run out.
I'm set for cherries for the rest of the year.
09 July 2009
The day started with pesto - more pesto than you can shake a stick at. I don't know why you'd want to shake a stick at pesto, but you certainly couldn't shake a stick at this much of it. (We ended up with about 8 pints of pesto by the end of the day.)
Pesto #1 - Basil Pesto
In the food processor combine almonds (pine nuts make me itchy), garlic, Parmesan cheese, basil leaves, salt, and really tasty olive oil. Blend until a rich herby-earthy paste forms and you wish someone made basil scented eau de toilette.
Pesto #2 - Garlic Scape Pesto
In the food processor combine almonds (no itchy pine nuts for me), Parmesan cheese, salt, roughly chopped garlic scapes, and your best olive oil. Blend until you just can't wait any longer and have to get a spoon full of the herbal/cheesy/nutty mixture into your mouth. Pause for a moment and be amazed at how garlicy and herbal garlic scapes are.
By noon, we had moved on to salsa. We blended fresh red onions (from Briermere farms) with some Vidalia onion, cilantro (Briermere again), jalapeno peppers, a habanero pepper, lime juice, salt, black pepper, and two cans of organic plum tomatoes (no juice). Sometimes I add garlic, but not today (there was enough garlic in the pestos to power me through next week). We ended up with two quarts of salsa.
After a bite of lunch and a short break to update my Twitter status and check on my Facebook news feed (I'm an addict), it was time to focus on the fruit. Jason pitted six (yes six) pounds of cherries and I washed and measured out four pints of blueberries. We made jam, jam, and more jam.
Jam #1 - Cherry Jam
Simmer cherries, sugar, lemon juice, and salt for about 45 mintues. Let it cool. Portion into jars (I used plastic freezer jars). Try to resist eating it directly out of the pot or spooned over vanilla ice cream. I made two and a half pints.
Jam #2 - Blueberry Jam
Simmer blueberries with sugar, lemon juice, and salt for about 30 minutes. Let cool and jar it up. This stuff smells like heaven and I want nail polish in blueberry jam color. I ended up with one pint. I need more blueberries!
Jam #3 - Blueberry/Cherry Jam
You know how I make jam by now - fruit, lemon juice, sugar, salt, simmer, cool, store, try to resist pouring this over everything in the refrigerator. The blueberry and cherry combo is amazing. I made one and a half pints but I only froze one pint. The other half pint is in my refrigerator, waiting for me to make waffles. Oh my!
While the jams were cooling, I blitzed up the strawberry sorbet mixture that I had macerating in the refrigerator overnight and poured it into my ice cream maker. Thirty minutes later, J was licking off the dasher and I packaged up a quart of strawberry margarita sorbet. We actually made slightly more than a quart so we had to eat some of the sorbet before we could seal the lid. The things we'll do for quality product. We all make our sacrifices.
Once we cleaned up the kitchen and sat down for a well deserved rest, J started reading the grocery circulars that came in the mail while he was in Las Vegas. He was beyond excited to find some amazing prices on fresh cherries. Upon further inspection of the circulars, he realized that today is the very last day of the specials. So, he jumped off the couch, grabbed his wallet and keys, and ran out to the grocery store.
He returned home forty-five minutes later with (I'm not joking here) twenty-eight pounds of fresh cherries. Seriously. Since they don't fit in the refrigerator, they are hanging out in the cooler with lots of ice until J and I can get to them tomorrow morning. We'll pit them all, freeze some for use during the winter (J loves making smoothies and froyo with frozen berries), make some into sorbet (J loves his frozen desserts), make some into jam, make some into chutney, put some into sangria, and eat some as is. It's going to be a very busy day. I might even experiment with making my own cherry-yaki marinade (a take on teriyaki sauce).
Anyone want to come over and pit some cherries for me? Anyone? Anyone?
08 July 2009
Tuesday afternoon J and I threw the pups into the car with us and headed out east in search of the last strawberries of the season and as many garlic scapes as we could get our hands on. In middle of a tremendous downpour, we got to our usual favorite organic farm, Garden of Eve (http://www.gardenofevefarm.com), and bought almost all of the garlic scapes they had out in the store. Actually, I did buy all they had out and the lovely manager refilled the basket and I picked up most of those too.
What are we going to do with all of these garlic scapes? (If you don't know what a garlic scape is, it's the flower of the garlic plant, cut off before it opens. The stem is garlicy and herbal and crunchy and delicious.) Pesto, my friends, lots and lots of pesto is what we do with them. In my trusty food processor, I chop almonds (pine nuts make me itchy) then add the garlic scapes, some Parmesan cheese, a bit of salt, and some fabulous olive oil. I process that into a gorgeous green-studded-with-almond-brown-and-crumbly-cheese-white paste and try to hold J back. This stuff is heady with the scent of garlic, earthy with the taste of ground almonds and cheese, rich with fruity olive oil, and redolent of herbs without any basil or parsley.
I put aside a cup or so of the pesto and froze the rest in freezer jars (I love these things! Check them out: http://tinyurl.com/freezerjars). During the day Tuesday, I slathered the pesto onto my homemade bread and and wedged some fresh mozzarella in between the crusty slices and pressed them in my Foreman grill. Pesto-mozzarella pannini are delicious. I envision using this pesto in the fall and winter on pasta (very traditional), in pannini (duh!), in salad dressings, in soups, with eggs (scrambled or en cocotte), in quesadillas, you name it.
The strawberry season is over but I couldn't resist looking for a last quart or two of the delicious local beauties that have made me so happy over such a short period of time. Everyone was out of strawberries, but I found two lonely quarts at one farm. They had been grown in Connecticut. I couldn't help myself. My vow to buy only NY and NJ berries was broken because I needed these last berries to be mine. The shame and guilt and pleasure of it all!
These berries were destined for one last batch of sorbet. They currently slumber in my refrigerator, mascerating in their own juices and enjoying the company of some sugar, salt (just enough to temper the sweetness), the juice of some lemons and limes, a shot (or two or three) of tequila, and some triple sec. Tomorrow, they will get blitzed up in the food processor and poured into the ice cream maker before being stored in some extra-large freezer jars. I've convinced J to let me save a couple of quarts of strawberry sorbet for later in the year by promising him some watermelon sorbet this weekend. I know. I know. Watermelons are not yet in season. Don't tell J. I scooped up a small seedless beauty to appease his frozen treat tooth while I stash away the strawberry goodness for a snowy day.
Wednesday, J and I headed into the city to hit the Union Square Green Market. Our goal: blueberries, basil, mushrooms, and some local cheese. If anything else were to catch our eye, all the better.
We got basil. Tons of it. One farm was selling whole basil plants (each about 2.5 feet tall), so we bought three of them. Each plant was enough for a tremendous batch of pesto. Here's more pesto to put into the freezer. Yum!
We picked up some blueberries. Since it is the beginning of their short season, they're still pricey, but I needed some more to bring my share blueberries up to critical mass to make some jam.
We also picked up some broccoli rabe, baby bok choi, shiitake mushrooms, olive cheese, jalapeno cheese, and a whole wheat baguette. We scooted over to Whole Foods for some jalapeno peppers too.
Then we headed down to Chinatown.
The cherries there are not local, but they were ripe and inexpensive and beautiful. We bought six pounds. J thinks at least three pounds are for him to eat, but I might get greedy and cook them all down tomorrow. That depends on how lazy I am when it comes to pitting all of those little buggers. I want some cherry jam and some cherry-blueberry jam and some cherry-ginger chutney. I need one of those cool cherry pitting machines that you pour the cherries into and lovely pitted cherries pop out (http://tinyurl.com/cherrystoner). For now, I hand pit them with a cool little gadget that requires a bit more hand strength than I really have, spurts juice all over my shirt, and is bound to cause a repetitive motion injury (http://tinyurl.com/cherrypitter). It's better than (1) not having cherries at all and (2) cutting out the pits by hand with a knife (the staining! the staining!)
I needed to pick up some fruit for a big sangria this weekend, so I grabbed some decidedly non-local strawberries, blueberries, nectarines, and some more cherries. I know. I know - but it's for a party. I can't let everyone down because I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and became obsessive, can I?
J managed to forgo the lychees mounded on every vendor's table, much to my surprise; but he did scoop up a pint of freshly cut jackfruit. It smells wonderful. I'm going to try a bite with my breakfast tomorrow.
We also scooped up some Chinese greens, fresh noodles, dried noodles, and a couple of different kinds of dumpling wrappers. I've become obsessed with noodles and dumplings lately, and I feel the need to experiment. My first guinea pigs will be at the party this weekend. I'll ply them with sangria then spring the noodles on them when they least suspect it!
The shopping was fun, but we had a monumental set of tasks we had to complete upon our return home. This was not all going to fit easily into the refrigerator. So some items would have to be broken down before they were stored and other items, including some from the fridge, would have to be processed for alternative storage (at this point, "alternative storage" means the freezer).
We set to work on the strawberries. Three quarts of tiny beauties went into my favorite saucier with some sugar and lots of lemon juice for the final cooked strawberry jam of the season. The cooled jam was spooned into freezer jars and stashed away for another day. The two quarts of Connecticut berries were sliced and seasoned with sugar, lemon and lime juice, salt, tequila, and triple sec before being stashed in the fridge to chill down before they become sorbet.
When the counters were cleared of strawberry stickiness, we turned our attention to the basil. We used the blender jar and the salad spinner bowl as vases, filled with cold refreshing water for the roots of the plants, as we harvested the fragrant leaves. Once harvested, J disposed of the spent roots and stems and rejected leaves (bruised, torn, eaten by something else) while I washed, rinsed, and spun the leaves before wrapping them in paper toweling and nestling them into a zip top bag. They're ready for a marathon pesto making session.
We cleaned out a drawer in the refrigerator and I repackaged some of the take out food we brought home with us to minimize space issues. Of course, that meant that J had to have a nibble of this and a bite of that because not all of the food would fit into my containers, but he didn't complain. That's my boy!
Okay, with all of the shopping, food prep, cooking, and freezing, I'm exhausted. J and the boys are all asleep while I type this and I'm longing to dip into slumber as well. Stay tuned for the saga my upcoming marathon pesto and jam session to be followed by a day of cooking for a party. I'm even more tired just thinking about it!
07 July 2009
We were on a mission. Not only were we scooping up our shares for the week, we were hunting for some about-to-go-out-of-season goodies. Garlic scapes and strawberries were at the top of our list. I had a feeling I was going to get a few garlic scapes as part of our veggie share, but I definitely needed a whole lot more.
Here's what we got this week:
The sign was not completely correct, though. The fruit share, as in weeks past, was not correct. There were no raspberries to be found - not really a disappointment for me, though, as I'm allergic to the bumpy red beauties. When I eat a raspberry, I start to turn into a plump bumpy red berry-like version of myself. I ended up with two pints of blueberries and one pint of gooseberries.
Have you ever heard of braising mix? I hadn't until just recently. Evidently, when the greens get too mature and tough to be eaten raw, they get mixed together and sold as braising mix - best eaten after cooking. I'm not going to braise any of these greens, though, because I'm a rebel and I'll never never be any good. I'm planning a lovely saute to stuff into a quesadilla or pannini or something of the like.
The two (much bigger) zucchini we got this week brought us up to critical mass in squash, so my wheels have begun spinning. I can't decide whether to grill or smother these little green beauties. I suppose both the weather and J's preference will decide for me.
The lettuces had me most excited. I immediately washed and spun both heads when I got home and stored them, rolled in paper towels, in a zip top bag. I knew a couple of lovely fresh salads would be in order this week. The fun part would be the crafting of the just-right dressings for these lovely soft greens.
The broccoli, bok choi, and snowpeas will find their way into either a fried rice or lo mein dish - probably the one I bring to a friend's house for a party. They'll add nice crunch to an otherwise starchy dish.
The rainbow chard is kind of a question mark in my head. I know I can saute it with garlic and olive oil, but I'm always sauteing new greens with garlic and olive oil. Some internet research is in order here. I need something new, something different, something cool to do with this little bundle of chard.
Gooseberries? That's a big question mark and I've already done quite a bit of research. I know that I'll have to thoroughly wash them and cut off the tops and tails before I do anything with them. I've read recipes for gooseberry pie, crumble, and fool. None of them turn me on. I think I'll have to work up the courage to taste a berry first (I know they'll be tart) and let that inspire their ultimate use.
The blueberries taunt me with all of their potential - jam, muffins, pancakes, pie, syrup. This is the opposite of the gooseberry situation - I've got too many options here. What to do...what to do... I'll figure it out.
The garlic scapes are destined for big batches of garlic scape pesto (garlic scapes, almonds, Parmesan cheese, salt, and olive oil), most of which will be frozen for use during the fall and winter.
The strawberries? They found their way in to freezer jam (both with sugar and with Splenda), cooked jam, and sorbet. I know the season is coming to an end, so I'm buying up every quart of strawberries I can find and putting them up for the bleak strawberry-less days of winter that lie ahead.
Enough of talking...let's get down to the cooking!
06 July 2009
In preparation for J's six days out of town, I bought a couple of boxes of Special K, whipped up a batch of bread dough, and scooped up a block of Parmesan cheese (the best minimalist pasta topping). J is coming back tonight and I haven't touched the cereal. I did eat one pasta dinner (and the leftovers for breakfast and lunch). Toast was consumed in quantity, as expected, although it was all from home-baked loaves.
So, I ended up doing quite a bit of cooking. I also ended up doing quite a bit of cleaning, but I didn't mind it too much because I cleaned as I cooked. I never let a bunch of dishes (or pots or baking pans or appliances) pile up. I strategically washed what I used before moving on to the next step. One can do that when she's not in a rush to feed her husband.
It's obvious that I baked a lot of bread this past week. My obsession with ciabatta and making the perfect loaf played out in ciabattas large and small. I also made a small pizza bianca with some olive oil and red pepper flakes worked into the crust. Most of this bread was consumed either freshly sliced from the loaf or toasted. I do that. I eat plain bread - lots of plain bread. I can't help myself. The rest of the bread was either pressed into pannini or toasted and eaten with homemade strawberry jam (more about that below) or eggs. The pannini were the result of an impulse buy I made while at Fairway last week. They have set up a stand where a haggard-looking soul makes fresh mozzarella all day long and packs it up for the crowds gathered around him. When the crowd thinned down, he sighed and looked at the piles of mozzarella balls piled up in front of him. I couldn't help but scoop one up and give him a smile of encouragement. I used up the ball of mozzarella over the course of the week, pressing it between thick slices of my homemade bread or melting it onto my pizza bianca. It was a delicious soft and creamy contrast to the crunchy crust I've been working on perfecting.
When I didn't feel like turning on the oven to bake bread, I turned to the stash of vegetarian chicken salad I picked up during my Fairway run. When I ran out of chicken salad, I made pasta (tossed with a bit of butter and some fluffy grated Parmesan cheese). When I ran out of pasta and didn't feel like cooking more, I made more bread. It was a starchy week.
When I wasn't cooking for immediate personal consumption, I was cooking for long-term storage. I scooped up several extra quarts of farm-fresh local strawberries while out and about and made batches of freezer jam. I had never heard of freezer jam until recently and I was curious. Using a special type of pectin, you can make jam without cooking it. The jam can be sugared (using much less sugar than cooked jams), left unsweetened, or sweetened with an artificial sweetener like Splenda. I made a batch with sugar and a batch with Splenda. I just mixed the crushed berries with the pectin and the sweetener until the mixture began to thicken then I poured the quickly-gelling jam into freezer jars. (These things are cool!) The jars can remain frozen for a year. So two and a half quarts each of no-sugar-added and low-sugar strawberry freezer jams were the first items that got "put up" in my new chest freezer. Now I'll be able to enjoy the taste of sweet July strawberries in December. I'm looking forward to it.
I had more strawberries and some cherries I picked up (at Fairway, of course) that needed some long-term preservation. Since my new KitchenAid ice cream attachment arrived on Thursday, sorbet was in order. After some recipe research, I determined that a good fruit sorbet recipe needs four basic ingredients: fresh fruit puree, citrus juice, sugar, and alcohol. The fruit puree and sugar are no-brainers. The citrus juice is a much needed shot of acid to prevent the sorbet from being sickeningly sweet. The alcohol prevents the mixture from freezing into a solid block of ice and could serve as a nice flavor enhancement. Strawberry margarita sorbet was my first experiment. I pureed strawberries with a little bit of sugar, some lemon juice, a shot of tequila, and a dribble of triple sec. Oh yeah. This stuff was good. I followed it up with a second, larger batch of the same with lime juice instead of lemon. It was good, but the lemons had a stronger presence. Maybe next time I'll mix both juices. After pitting two pounds of cherries, I pureed them with lots of lime juice and some vodka (I didn't want an alcohol flavor in this batch). In retrospect, I needed to add some more liquid to this batch because cherries aren't as watery as strawberries. I also needed some more lime juice as the cherries are a strong flavor unto themselves. I've got to scoop up some more berries and cherries while they're still in season and mass-produce some sorbet for J to enjoy later in the year. I think I'll experiment with watermelon too.
I wanted to take some time to make and can some cooked strawberry jam over the weekend, but I found myself either too tired or otherwise occupied with general housekeeping duties. I must confess that I'm quite intimidated with the idea of water-canning but I'm equally fascinated by the process as well. I've got three quarts of berries in the fridge that are prodding me to face my fears and get that giant pot of water boiling on the stove. I know what I'll be doing tomorrow!
04 July 2009
We managed to use up everything from last week's shares except the zucchini. There really wasn't much I could do with two tiny little zucchini. Fortunately, this week's shares contained more (and bigger) zucchini, so I think we've finally reached a critical mass of squash for something good this week.
Let's take a look at how the produce got used up. Everything in green below came from our shares. Everything in blue below came from the farmer's market in Union Square.
broccoli rabe + garlic scapes + garlic + local white wine + really tasty olive oil + red pepper flakes (in abundance) + mozzerella + homemade bread = fabulously crusty, crunchy, garlicy panini
kale + olive oil + salt + red pepper flakes = crunchy spicy kale chips (so good as a potato chip-like side with the panini)
mesclun + blue cheese dressing + bacon salt + wood fired bread + soy bacon = salty, smoky, creamy, crunchy bacon salad panini
spinach + garlic scapes + garlic + shiitake mushrooms + olive oil + red pepper flakes + nutmeg = garlicy greens and mushrooms saute served on the side of fettuccine alfredo (not the lightest meal of the week)
sliced snowpeas + baby bok choi + vegetarian Vietnamese noodles + soy sauce + sesame oil + Sriracha + vegetarian oyster sauce + eggs = noodle stir fry garnished with slices of thin omelet
eggs + corn tortillas + homemade salsa = huevos rancheros
strawberries + lemon + cornstarch + graham crackers + sugar + butter = strawberry refrigerator pie
strawberries + lemon + tequila + sugar + triple sec = strawberry margarita sorbet
I actually cooked a couple of meals without using any ingredients from the shares during the week as well. It felt good to be back in the kitchen and it felt even better to be cooking from the "What do I have in the refrigerator?" point of view rather than the "What do I feel like cooking?" point of view. Now that we're eating more local foods and trying to take advantage of what's in season at the moment, I've been pushed in the creativity department. That's a lot of fun!
Stay tuned for news of this week's shares and my culinary adventures!